My friend, Mercy Baron is a certified Kansas City Barbecue Judge and a regular on the BBQ competition circuit. She is also the owner of the http://baronsbbqbeat.com/ blog based here in San Diego. Given her reputation as an expert in all things ‘cue, a UK company sent Mercy a fire starting product called “Fire’s Little Helper” to test and review.
One problem for Mercy: she doesn’t do much involving grills or smokers except in the capacity as a consumer and expert on what comes off of them. One solution: bring the Fire’s Little Helper to my house and we’d test it together.
One problem for me: I was supposed to cook ribs for a high level barbecue competition circuit judge. Another problem for me: I’d never smoked ribs in my whole life. Ever. I’d always cheated: a parboil followed by a trip to the grill over indirect heat with some smoking chips.
That approach wasn’t going to cut it for Mercy. I was going to have to do it right. And I was going to have to nail the landing on the first attempt. Somehow, I did.
I went to school on how to do it right. “Low and slow” I knew. But what, exactly, was the sweet spot. The answer: 3 hours on the smoker at 200° Fahrenheit.
The other major variable: the smoke. The most common recommendation was for wood chunks as opposed to chips. But when I’d tried that before with other dishes the result always seemed overly smoked. I decided to go with chips (specifically, apple). The main advantage was control: by going in with a light hand I could make sure that the smoke was a flavor element rather than a flavor dominatrix.
I did “cheat” in one way. I was not about to serve Mercy a classic barbecue sauce. So, I went in another direction and one related by bloodlines and geography to the origin of barbecue with the Arawak Indians in the Caribbean. This was the result (for Mercy’s account go here):
Jamaican Jerk Smoked Spare Ribs
- 2 tablespoons whole allspice
- 6 whole cloves
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 2 habañero or scotch bonnet chile peppers
- 1 tablespoon ground thyme
- 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 6 garlic cloves
- 4 green onions, stemmed and chopped
- 2 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
For the Ribs
- 2 racks of pork spare or baby back ribs
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Make the Jamaican Jerk Seasoning. Grind the allspice, cloves and black pepper in a spice grinder. Using gloves and a very sharp paring knife, cut the tops of the chile peppers and remove the seeds and as much of the chiles’ ribs as you like (that’s where a lot of the “heat” is). Add all of the remaining ingredients (except the ribs) to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “S” blade and pulse to combine. Scrape down the sides of the food processor then process to a smooth paste and pour into a small bowl.
- Clean the Ribs. Clean the ribs by removing the back membrane. To do so, slide the blade of a butter knife (you may need to start with a sharp paring knife) below the membrane on the back of each rack of ribs, and then use your fingers to grab it and pull it off.
- Marinate the Ribs. With gloved hands, rub the jerk seasoning all over ribs. Wrap the ribs in the butcher’s paper (it has a great wax interior side to keep juices from dripping out), and seal with aluminum foil. Place in the refrigerator overnight or up to 24 hours.
- Begin preparing the Smoker. When ready to cook the ribs remove them from the refrigerator and let them come back to temperature. Meanwhile, fill the water pan with get your smoker ready, following the instructions for your smoker. Mine is a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker. Light your charcoal briquettes by whatever means you prefer (I highly recommend against anything involving lighter fluid or other hydrocarbons). Meanwhile, fill the water pan with water. When the coals are fully grey, spread an even layer of coals on the charcoal grate inside the charcoal ring. Put the wood chips of your choice (I recommend a sweet wood such as apple, cherry or pecan) on top of the coals. Many recipes call for wood chunks but I find they result in a product that is over-smoked. Control the smoke in the product by adding wood chips when necessary. Assemble the smoker by putting the water pan in the middle section, inserting the middle section on top of the lower section (with the charcoals), and putting the cooking grates in place.
- Smoke the Ribs. Arrange the ribs bone side down on the grate. Start with the lid vent completely open and the three bottom vents about 1/3 open. The temperature will shoot up relatively quickly. When the thermometer shows about 200° Fahrenheit, choke the top vent down to about 1/3 open. You will have to periodically check the temperature and adjust the vents throughout the cooking process. Cook the ribs for 3 hours at 200° Fahrenheit. Your ribs are done when you can hold two adjacent bones (preferably in the middle of the slab), pull them and feel the meat offer a bit or resistance before tearing.